Tough Champions League challenge awaits Cork City

There will be no marquee meeting with Celtic for Cork City in the first round of the Champions League but Ireland’s title-holders will still face tough opposition when the pairings are finalised at the draw in Switzerland this morning.

The ‘grouping’ system adopted by UEFA – a somewhat mysterious process which takes in matters of geography and politics as well as the clubs’ co-efficients and which is designed to facilitate a fair draw – has seen the Glasgow giants eliminated from the list of possible opponents for unseeded City in the first qualifying round.

Better news is that long-haul trips to the likes of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are also off the agenda but even if the logistics are generally more favourable, the footballing challenge is still formidable as John Caulfield’s men now know that they will face one from Legia Warsaw, Malmo, Rosenborg, HJK Helsinki and, the top seeds, Ludogorets Razgrad of Bulgaria.

City will also find out today who their potential opponents in the Second Round will be and also have the security of knowing that should they go out in the First Round they will automatically transfer to the Europa League Second Qualifying Round.

An increase in Uefa’s Solidarity Payments for clubs in European competition means City, as champions, are guaranteed a minimum of €800,000 for participating in the Champions League compared to a total of €580,000 for Dundalk last season. And should Cork get through to the next round that figure would rise to €1,200,000.

The first and second legs of the Champions League First Round fixtures will take place on 10/11 July and 17/18 July. Cork City have advised that the order of the home and away ties could be subject to change due to various factors – including ground-sharing and teams within the same vicinity playing on the same night in another European competition – and are therefore strongly recommending that supporters do not make any non-refundable bookings until the club have confirmed the exact date, time and location of fixtures on their website and social media channels.

The draw for the first and second qualifying rounds of the Europa League takes place tomorrow, with Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers and Derry all awaiting their fate.

Possible opponents for Dundalk include Levadia Tallinn (Estonia), ÍBV (Iceland), KuPS Kuopio (Finland), Liepaja (Latvia), and Tre Fiori (San Marino) / Bala Town (Wales), and NSÍ Runavík (Faroes). Dundalk have the benefit of being seeded.

Possible opponents for Rovers include Hafnarfjördur (Iceland), Nordsjælland (Denmark), AIK (Sweden), Ventspils (Latvia), and Shakhtyor Soligorsk (Belarus).

Speaking yesterday at the official opening of two grass pitches at the club’s Academy in Roadstone, Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley said that the extended runs in European competition enjoyed by the Hoops and Dundalk in recent years mean League of Ireland clubs are now entitled to have higher expectations of making progress in Europe.

“Like Derry last year, if you get a top team you’re up against it straight away but if you get a half-decent draw you can progress,” he said. “We should be looking to go as far as we can. Not just us, I’m talking about every Irish team that’s in it. Although a lot comes down to the luck of the draw, especially the first round, after that I think all of us should be looking to progress as far as we can.”

Cork City will find out who their first round opponents will be this morning when the Champions League draw takes place in Nyon, Switzerland, beginning at 11am Irish time.

Proceedings will be streamed live on UEFA.com.

Meanwhile Bradley has confirmed that Shamrock Rovers have joined Dundalk in the race to lure Oldham’s Patrick McEleney back to the League of Ireland while there is growing speculation that Derry City’s Aaron McEneff is set to go in the other direction and join Rotherham United.


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